So many wonderful vegetables! I tried three new (to me) winter squashes this season, two modern and one really ancient.
You never know what you’ll find at the farmers market these days. Our farmers are stretching the limits of what one would expect to find in a cold northern climate. But we now have reliable sources for exotics such as fresh ginger and figs! Who knows what they will grow next?
An explosion of varieties
In the last ten years, the variety of winter squashes has exploded! A walk through the farm stand or market and one finds an enormous selection of these reliable winter keepers. Most have a tougher skin than summer squashes and can be kept in a cool spot for a good part of the winter ahead. If you don’t have a root cellar, and most people don’t in this day and age, an unheated bedroom, or cool spot anywhere in the house is a perfect storage space. I have a small utility room that has no cellar underneath, so it is always chilly and the floor is alway cold.
However, the easiest way to store winter squash is to let the farmer do it and order through your winter CSA!
I chose three squashes to try out this year, new to me but not necessarily very new to the world. The Georgia Candy Roaster Squash, a striking heirloom, I had never seen before. Neither had I seen or tasted the honeynut squash, a variety that was bred in the 1980s. The third, a Baby Blue New England Hubbard bred in 1953, is as beautiful as the original, but much easier to manage!
Georgia Candy Roaster
Georgia Candy Roaster Squash (loved the name) is an heirloom variety originally from the Cherokee natives. It is orange and green striped with a medium vibrant orange flesh, and can grow upwards to 15 lbs.! I bought the smallest one they had, and noticed many of them were shaped like a little smile.
Because I’d never had this before, I cooked this three ways. In all three versions, I only removed some of the peeling to see how palatable “edible” might mean.
First, I steamed them. This took about 9 minutes to steam. The result was very mild, kind of bland, flavor, and it tasted waterlogged. Even with extra butter and salt, it was bland, and is not my recommended way to prepare this squash.
Second, I roasted it. I cut it into chunks, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted, turning once. It took about 18 minutes. The flavor was much improved over the steamed version, and I absolutely loved it!
Thirdly, I roasted it exactly as above but drizzled just a bit of Vermont maple syrup over all, also turning once. I loved this version too!
In the roasted version without the maple syrup, you could taste more of the concentrated sweet squash taste; it almost tasted like a cross between a really flavor zucchini and a butternut squash, but a bit sweeter. By adding the maple syrup, you could taste the squash a bit less, the maple was definitely present
I would make and love both the roasted versions, so I think it would simply depend on my mood whether I wanted the maple added or not, and I wouldn’t bother peeling them.
The honeynut squash looks like a miniature butternut squash, but with a much deeper orange interior, and green and orange mottled stripes outside. It has only been around a few decades.
A matter of taste
My test of the honeynut squash was not as successful for me. I was told they were much like a butternut in flavor only more intense, and I agree. When roasted, I found the squash flavor just a little deeper than I wanted, but my husband loved it. So once again, it is all a matter of taste.
I bought two squash and roasted them both. One I sliced in half, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with warm fall spices: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, clove, not a lot of any. The roasting took about 25 minutes at 450 degrees F. This was simple, put in the oven, set the timer, and forget.
The other squash I cut in half, seeded, and cut into half rings. I roasted them in olive oil with just a bit of salt. This cooked in about 15 minutes, flipping over once.
Both versions were good, I think the spiced one had the edge for me because it tamped down some of the SQUASH flavor.
In general, I’d cook both squashes again, roasting the candy squash plain and roasting the halved honeynut squash with the spices. I would not steam either. The squash doesn’t need to be peeled unless you don’t want the texture.
Baby Blue New England Hubbard
Now, usually a New England Blue Hubbard Squash looks like something that was left under a person’s bed in the movie “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” it is enormous, weighs upward to 40 pounds. Yes. A cook probably only purchases one a year, if at all, and only when there are a couple of dozen people coming for Thanksgiving dinner OR you plan to cook it and freeze it to eat all year long. They keep well if placed in a cool spot, and get sweeter as the winter progresses.
The one pictured below is on the “small” side. Attempting to cut up this thick-skinned fruit is beyond difficult, and dangerous, which is why most people pierce it with a nice sharp ice pick and bake it whole for a very long time, then deal with it. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
The Baby Blue Hubbard, which has been around since 1953, is a cross between the big Hubbard and buttercup squash. It has become more popular, and in my book, it’s the only way to go. They are still a lovely dusty blue-grey color with vibrant orange flesh and deep squash flavor, but they weigh in from between 2 to 6 pounds or so! Much more manageable, but still a lot of squash.
A weighty problem
The best way to cook the granddaddy squash is to roast it, and that is what I did with the baby. I loosely filled the cavity with apples, a minced shallot, a handful of dried cranberries, and a drizzle of maple syrup and cooked it in a 450 degree oven for just 35 minutes. They are sweet, the squash flavor intense, and they are also very good for you! It still has more of a super deep squash flavor than I like, but if you love your squash, this might be the one for you!
It tasted exactly like the Big Blue, so if I am ever tempted to purchase the 40 lb. squash, I’ll pass it by (unless I need a prop for a movie…).
Additionally, all three would make a delicious squash pie!
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